In the last 16 years, there has only been one time where the Associated Press Player of the Year and the Naismith College Player of the Year differed in award winners. In 2016, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine was named the AP Player of the Year, but just weeks later, Oklahoma’s Buddy Heild won the Naismith Award over him.
In 2020, different winners should be named again, as Dayton’s Obi Toppin was named the AP Player of the Year. Iowa’s Luka Garza finished in second, but he should be named the Naismith Player of the Year.
Many people already know Toppin’s incredible story. He was a senior at Ossining High School in New York with no Division-I scholarships and was unable to dunk. He attended Mount Zion Prep in Maryland, which got him an offer to the University of Dayton.
This season, Toppin led the Flyers to finish ranked #3 in the nation. He was a sensational player this season, but he shouldn’t be crowned the best in college basketball this year. Garza played at an elite level all year long in the Big Ten Conference, which was undisputedly the best conference in college basketball this season.
Garza led an injury-riddled Iowa Hawkeye team to a 20-11 overall record and an 11-9 record in the Big 10. The Hawkeyes had seven wins against Top 25 opponents.
“He’s the go-to-guy in the country, player of the year, and very efficient,” Garza’s teammate Ryan Kriener said. “Luka was a main reason we were able to be as good as we were with all of the injuries we had.”
“”He’s a fierce competitor, a great worker, and tries to go out and dominate every time he’s out there. Not even just in the game, but in practice, shootaround, it doesn’t matter,” another teammate of Garza’s, Bakari Evelyn, said. “”He just demands so much attention on the floor at all times that he gets people open shots by simply being out there.”
Garza was elite averaging 23.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG in his 31 games this year. He shot 54% from the field and a career-best 35.8% from three-point range. Against ranked opponents in 12 games, Garza averaged 26.7 PPG and 10 RPG on 51% shooting.
In the last 15 seasons, only two other players, Kevin Durant (2006-07, Texas) and Michael Beasley (2007-08, Kansas State), have averaged 25+ PPG and 10+ RPG vs ranked opponents (minimum of five games) according to Stats by STATS.
Luka Garza had 11 20-point games against Top-25 opponents this season. That was the most by any Division-I player in a single season since UConn’s Kemba Walker (14 games) in 2010-11, according to Matt Benson. Dayton only played one ranked opponent all season long and only played in seven Quad 1 games compared to Iowa’s 16.
According to KenPom’s Strength of Schedule, Iowa had the 5th toughest schedule in the nation compared to Dayton’s 103rd ranked schedule. There was only one team in the Atlantic 10 who was a lock to go to the NCAA Tournament – that was Dayton.
Going up against big-men such as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, Maryland’s Jalen Smith, Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu, and so many other star-studded big men on a regular is a much taller task then going against anyone in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
Going against those defensive players every night, Garza still dominated the inside game. According to Scott Dochterman of The Athletic in 20 Big Ten Conference games, Garza outscored his opposing centers by 319 points this year. He also managed to out rebound centers by 74 as well.
If you swap teams, Garza would be putting up otherworldly numbers against Dayton’s Atlantic 10 opponents. Toppin appeals to the eye with his windmill dunks in blowout wins against teams like George Washington, but Luka Garza dominated and led his team over some of the country’s best every night.
“Obi is a great player… and he’s exciting to watch,” Evelyn said. “But, as far as National Player of the Year…. To me, and I could be bias, but #55 was a no brainer.”
Toppin is a phenomenal player who will likely be a Top-5 selection in the upcoming NBA Draft in June, but Garza is extremely well deserving to win the Naismith Award.